Tipping Points

Once you have sufficient leverage or momentum, your desired outcome can no longer be denied.

We’ve all experienced tipping points, whether it be on the mats or off.

In Jiu-Jitsu, tipping points occur when your opponent gains so much leverage that you cannot realistically fight off their attack anymore, and your only recourse is to change your tactics.

In real life, tipping points occur when an idea, product, or movement gains sufficient momentum that its growth becomes exponential.

The concept of tipping points were popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book of the same name.

Good strategies involve creating tipping points for yourself, and pivoting should your opponent create a tipping point against you.

When the tipping point is in your favor

When you have leverage and momentum on your side, things are easy. And this is how it should be: rather than struggling to fight an uphill battle, it’s better to create circumstances where you’re being carried by a tailwind. Contrary to what some may say, working harder than you have to is nothing to be proud of. It’s best to win efficiently. When you get traction to the point where success becomes easy, you’ve gone past the tipping point.

In Jiu-Jitsu, getting past the tipping point means getting leverage. Leverage multiplies the force you can generate, and it’s much more effective to use leverage than brute force.

We’ve all experienced this in action: at first you’re struggling back and forth to secure a technique, and it could go either way. But then at some point, you secure sufficient leverage such that the technique becomes undeniable, and your opponent is forced to go on the defensive. One of the most obvious examples of this is the Kimura trap: at first it’s a fight to pull your opponent’s elbow free, but once you’ve done this, your opponent is forced into a defensive sequence.

One note on tipping points: beware of false positives. When you have leverage and momentum on your side, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re doing things the right way even if you aren’t. Consider the white belt who succeeds by athleticism, and thinks this means their technique is solid. Or consider the company that rides a wave of hype to a high valuation, despite poor business fundamentals. As Warren Buffett said, “only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

When the tipping point is against your favor

It’s important to understand when your opponent has passed the tipping point, because this means it’s time to adjust your strategy. Just like how you wouldn’t stand in front of an oncoming train, you don’t want to fight an opponent where they have leverage or momentum.

Understand when you’re fighting an uphill battle, and change your strategy accordingly. Both in Jiu-Jitsu and in life, pivoting is critical when your opponent has passed a tipping point. Don’t continue fighting a losing battle. The best strategists can tell in advance that their opponent is about to cross a tipping point, and pivot before it happens.

As an example, we know it’s a mistake to continue clinging to your opponent after they’ve passed your guard and have moved to side control. Once your guard has been passed, your opponent has gone past a tipping point and it’s time to adjust your strategy.

Further study